Transitioning into the Big Kid Years

Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home

Let’s face it. Very few of us are completely untouched by public opinion, whether it’s barely beneath the surface or just an occasional niggling feeling. Even the most die-hard unschooler must wonder at some point: Are we on the right track? Am I doing enough?

If your students are under 11 or 12, keep relaxing. Please, oh please, enjoy these days. Snuggle together reading, spend hours doing crafts, take long walks and bend down to examine every insect. Bake a cake and call it science. Go to a museum and call it history. Go grocery shopping and call it math.

I have now graduated one student, who is in his first year of college, and I can say with assurance: I do not regret one single day that we spent decorating cookies instead of doing a math worksheet.

But the time does come to transition.

Generally around seventh grade, you and your student will be ready to ease into what I think of as the academic years—the move toward independence.  This road to independence should be a purposeful one. We have deliberately cultivated a relaxed approach to our lives, and in homeschooling and parenting, this translates at one level to relinquishing control little by little. Your child cannot become independent if you do everything for him because it’s the way you want things done.

So how do you make the transition from playdough to research papers? Slowly, but deliberately.

1. Give more independent work.

I have heard many parents comment that, “I don’t know how my daughter will ever be independent. I have to sit beside her the whole time we do school.” I would suggest being frank with your student, explaining that the time has come for her to work toward independence.

Start by having him do his easiest subject entirely on his own. Add in the rest throughout the next couple of years and aim for nearly complete independent work by ninth grade.

2. Give your student a checklist of the things that need to be done on his own.

You can make a daily list or a weekly list, depending on your student’s preference.

Be sure to check your student’s work after he has finished. Don’t wait until the end of the week to check all his work. He needs fairly immediate feedback in order to process corrections.

3. Teach him to follow through with assignments.

Allowing our kids to not finish an assignment is easy in homeschooling. No one’s checking, right?

We know he can write that essay. We know she understands the results of the experiment; why make her write the lab report? Insisting that your student complete a project is one of the greatest skill sets you can give him. Don’t let that essay fizzle before the final draft. Require your student to finish what he starts.

4. Make him accountable to someone else.

This can be the best way for him to learn to follow through. In eighth grade we added academic co-op classes to our son’s schedule that required homework, making him accountable to someone other than us. Although we’d always been active in our co-op, the classes had been enrichment classes— classes without letter grades—up until this point.

But beginning in eighth grade, our oldest took two high-school level courses. Both classes, taught by homeschooling parents, were in a fairly traditional classroom setting with tests and homework. The previous year had given him a good foundation in working independently and following a checklist; now he was putting this into action and doing his work for someone else. He began to develop his own system of studying.

If you don’t have a co-op, consider asking a homeschooling friend if s/he would be willing to teach a small literature or math class, or start one yourself. It really is worth it.

5. Give grades.

Yes, I know some of you bristle or feel woozy when you hear the term “grades.” (On the other hand, some of you probably saying, “Duh! Who doesn’t give grades?”)

I never gave grades until eighth grade. I gave smiley faces, usually ones that resembled aliens. But the truth is, your high schooler needs a GPA. Get him used to the idea of letter grades before he gets to ninth grade.

6. Don’t treat him like a little kid.

Stop picking out his clothes, if you haven’t already. Make sure she is taking an active role in much of the decision making.

Don’t make him go on awkward field trips to the children’s museum if he doesn’t want to go. Help him mature by respecting his wishes (within reason).

7. Don’t stop having fun.

We have a tendency to feel panicked and come down hard on our kids when they hit this age. Please don’t. Middle schoolers still need to have fun. For that matter, high schoolers still need to have fun!

My middle schooler still enjoys doing lapbooks and coloring while listening to read-alouds. We still make time for age-level field trips and the kind of days when school consists of gardening and playing kickball.

If you thoughtfully begin the transition, your student will have a decent foundation of working independently when he heads into high school.

Are you feeling anxious about heading into the “big kid” years? If you are nearing those years, what steps are you taking to transition?

About SarahS

Sarah has graduated one child from homeschooling and is happy to have miles left on the journey with her 11 and 15 year old children. With a master’s degree in English/creative writing, Sarah enjoys teaching writing and literature classes at her co-op and blogs about learning at SmallWorld at Home.


  1. A most encouraging post! I bought a slightly more independent curriculum for my grade 8 learner and by grade 9 we transitioned into another curriculum with external exams. Despite my high schooler’s anxienty about whether she would manage the schedule and cope with the standards, she has completed the year more confident accademically. I plan to enjoy all the happy, free and delight-directed homeschooling years with my other younger children. Homeschooling a high schooler is very different. Wonderful, but different.
    Nadene’s latest post: Linger- Listen- Lift up and Live the Word

  2. This is a wonderful and informative post on the topic of transitioning into the ” academic” years… We are on the same wave length on each point! We so enjoyed the wonder years together… exploring, discovering, snuggling, reading, etc.
    And I agree whole heartedly…KEEP HAVING FUN! OUR TEENS NEED IT…besides the addition or more academic’s, they are growing and experiencing so much internal change and we as parents of teens feel stretched as they go through that process..
    We all need the release of fun!

    Thanks for this!

  3. We have already been through this once, and are facing it again. Our first three children were homeschooled through 6-7th grades, then they attended a small Christian Classical school through the 12th grade. Our youngest four are still home at ages 10, 12, 12, and 13. We have no plans to send them down the same path their older siblings followed. So we will be continuing on. We have laid a foundational structure for our schooling that adapts with each year and works well for us. I can honestly say our school runs more efficiently and effectively than it ever has because of it. So as we scale the academic “ladder”, we simply step into the next level of learning for each content area. It is a continual, gradual climb and eliminates any large bumps in our road. (
    I Live in an Antbed’s latest post: A Season of Harvest

  4. Sarah,
    This is wonderful! Although my kids are only 7 I still have about 5 more years before we get to this point, but I love the suggestions on getting them to the independent state. We are doing a lot of the playing, baking, shopping and reading right now. This post has given me some ideas on how to start working toward that transition. I like to think ahead like that. I’m saving this post in my homeschool files. Thank you!
    Rana’s latest post: The Stinky Cheese Man

  5. Such truth. Independent work. Follow-through. Accountability. We’ve applied all of these and they are working. My 8th grader’s daily schedule includes color-coded assignments that indicate which ones he should expect to do by himself and which ones we need to start together. It allows him some choice and flexibility in his day. We also have our Handler teaching writing. She provides the rubric. She gives the feedback and grade. She expects a project on deadline. It gives my son the element of accountability and takes me off the hook.

  6. I still have very little ones and I’m new to homeschooling this year, but thinking about those big kid years are intimidating for me! It’s good to read this post and get a realistic glance at the future. Maybe it’s not so scary after all :).
    andie’s latest post: rainy day ideas 2

  7. What about transitioning into starting homeschool for the very first time? I’ll be starting kindergarten next year with my oldest son. I also have a 2 year old son. I wonder about the daily routine. How much of the non-schoolwork activities did any of you sacrifice or not sacrifice? I want to still be able to go to they gym for my classes. How do you work around the daily things and still do school? I attend MOPS and will still be involved when my oldest starts homeschool. How do I balance everything or transition everything without loosing my sanity as a result of not feeling like I’m not getting enough time for myself as a mom and teacher?

    • Samantha: You are so right—transitioning into homeschool itself is a whole other topic (or a whole series of topics)! I’d recommend starting with reading the posts on Simply Homeschool listed under “topics” on the sidebar. You will find some fantastic ideas there about making homeschooling a lifestyle. I have a post on blog about what we did for kindergarten: I would advise you to ease into it all slowly and joyfully. Definitely don’t give up going to the gym or MOPS. You can still do these things; you just have to adjust each year.

      Best wishes to you as you begin this journey. You are starting at the right place: by reading and gathering information as you begin!
      Sarah at SmallWorld’s latest post: Facebook and Your Teens

  8. Thank you, Sarah! I really enjoyed this post. My oldest is a 5th grader, and I am soaking up the advice and experiences from moms who have been there done that.
    Hannah’s latest post: Learning IM Loving- The Teaching Company

  9. This is SUCH good advice! My oldest is in 7th grade and I have started transitioning with her towards more formal schooling. A lot of what you wrote is what we’ve already started. I’m not sure about the grades (I’m personally more a fan of transcripts that list hours and accomplishments, since I doubt colleges pay much attention to what a parent grades anyway) but the rest really resonates with me. I especially love that you reminded us to keep it fun even for high schoolers. 🙂 Thanks!
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  10. You don’t remember one worksheet but you do remember the field trips and cookies and co-op classes you helped with. I have 6 kids. We homeschooled for 14 years. The 3 older all went to college. One is a speech-pathologist, one a Captain in the Marine Corp and one just went back to school after working in the computer field for 5 years. The other 3 have special needs and two are in regular school. I used the skills I picked up homeschooling to supplement what my guys do in school. Loved the post. susan

  11. Sarah,

    One of the biggest steps I took this year for my oldest daughter was to start transitioning to the idea of specific courses. Since we’ve worked in unit studies for quite a long time, many subjects were sort of all jumbled up all together. While math has always been a separate subject, this year she also has literary analysis and biology as stand-alone subjects. I think that this has helped both of us start to think in terms of credits, courses, and a beginning and ending point.

    Samantha’s latest post: Evaluating Our 2010-2011 School Year Progress- Part 2 – Reading

  12. such as important post! I love these tips (my oldest are 11 and 10)
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  13. Great suggestions! As a list fanatic, I think that is always a great thing. It’s also important to remember that this is a period of transition and for many, preparation for college. That’s why your tip to make them accountable to someone else is really good.
    This can be a difficult period of time as structure becomes more important but so does independence. As parents, it can be difficult to straddle the fine line between both but isn’t that why we homeschool to begin with? 🙂
    AprilS’s latest post: Geometry – Isosceles and Equilateral Triangles

  14. I brought my daughter and son home from school two years ago and haven’t looked back. My daughter is my oldest and she is very dependent upon me and craves my approval on everything. We focus on independence day by day and task by task. She’ll be entering “middle school” next year and although I have thought extensively about the extra work, I haven’t given much thought to including extra fun or how to not bore her with the “little kid” stuff I’ll be doing for my younger children. WOW! I am sure my daughter will thank you for pointing this out now so that next year is a more pleasant one.
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  15. I didn’t give grades in high school or at any other point. My 17 yo is a sophomore at the local community college, with plans to transfer as a junior to a 4 year school. The 4 year schools are only interested in grades from the community college (where he has a 3.82 average).

  16. I agree with you wholeheartedly that around 7th/8th grade, the academics and independence need to be kicked up a notch (or two). I thank you for this specific and practical guide. I also needed to be reminded that 11 is still young enough to enjoy the lighter side of learning. I really feel that, but sometimes I admit that I feel pressure to push.

  17. This was a very timely and encouraging post. I have a 12 year old who just transitioned into public school and a 9 year old and a 6 year old. I’ve been using the checklist method for years now and it has worked well. I like the other tips, too. I will print this out and out in my school binder for easy access.

  18. Sarah, this was very helpful for me. I am not anxious but thinking and wondering how these next years will go. My oldest is grade 6 age and I can feel the stirrings of changes in our routine for the coming years. I will be coming back to this.

  19. I loved this post! I really needed this encouragement! 🙂
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  20. That is understandable that cash can make us autonomous. But what to do when somebody has no cash? The one way is to get the loan and just auto loan.

  21. This was really helpful and I’ve started following your blog. My husband and I are considering bringing home our oldest child, who’s currently in 5th grade and is highly gifted, but is not being challenged appropriately in his school. (I’d like to bring all three – 2nd grade and kindergarten – home, but one at a time for now.) I was actually homeschooled through high school myself, so I know it can be done and the resources available now are so much more than they were 20 years ago when I graduated! Convincing my husband is taking a little longer, though. 🙂

  22. Oh thank you!! I have a 3rd grade boy at home and 2 oldest in public. I constantly find myself comparing what he is doing to what the “school” might be doing. Is he writing enough…is he spelling ok…are we covering everything in math?? I find myself just doing school at home. I hate the stress, the tears (from both of us) and the constant doubt that I feel. Thank you for telling me it’s ok. ❤️

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